Jan. 21, 2006
PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- Villanova lost its momentum, its stroke and it seemed like losing the lead was only a matter of time.
Will Sheridan's timely steal helped change all of that.
"It's just another game of doing what we do," Ray said.
Sheridan's steal led to a long pass to Kyle Lowry, who was fouled on a driving layup, made the free throw and helped the Wildcats snap out of a second-half funk. The three-point play started a 13-4 run that increased the Wildcats lead to 16.
"That was a big play," Villanova coach Jay Wright said.
Lowry added 11 points for the Wildcats (13-2, 4-1 Big East), who came out firing and used sharp 3-point shooting to build a 21-point first-half lead, then sank their free throws down the stretch to hang on for the win.
Eric Devendorf led Syracuse (15-4, 3-2) with 21 points and Terrence Roberts added 20 as the duo took over in the second half to offset off nights from leading scorers Demetris Nichols and Gerry McNamara.
With a record crowd for college basketball packing the Wachovia Center and erupting after every Villanova basket, the Orange quickly turned the game around to open the second half. Syracuse put together a 17-2 run to pull within four.
"When you play a seasoned team like that, and you get a lead, you just know they're going to get a run," Wright said.
The veteran Wildcats withstood the surge and never let the Orange get any closer. They went bigger, giving more minutes to Jason Fraser and Dante Cunningham off the bench, and rediscovered their incredibly cold shooting touch.
Ray hit two consecutive jumpers to finish off the run that Lowry started with his three-point play.
"That was one of the turning points of the game, especially during Syracuse's run," Ray said.
Ray - 11-for-46 for 40 points in the last three games - shook out of his slump in a big way, going 7-for-18 from the floor with eight rebounds.
The crowd of 20,581 was announced as the largest to ever watch a college basketball game in Pennsylvania, besting the mark of 20,270 set March 24, 2001 in the NCAA tournament regional, also at the Wachovia Center.
Roberts gave the Orange one last push, hitting a 3-pointer, another dunk and a 10-footer in succession to make it 66-56. But he had little help besides Devendorf.
McNamara, who had his usual strong following from his hometown of Scranton, Pa., about 120 miles northwest of Philadelphia, was 1-for-8 for four points. Nichols' 10 points were well below his 16.2 average and McNamara came in averaging 17.6 points.
"McNamara struggled tonight, it doesn't happen very often," Orange coach Jim Boeheim said. "He couldn't get anything going and we're not used to him having a bad game."
Villanova made 32 of 35 free throws.
It was nearly a year to the day - Jan. 22, 2005, also at the Wachovia Center - when Villanova blew out undefeated Kansas in a win that signaled its return to prominence.
So whatever team is booked to come here on this weekend next year might want to think about changing the date.
The Wildcats seemed poised to put this one away early when Mike Nardi hit two 3-pointers, Foye sank one and they went up 12-0 before the Orange ever took a shot. When Ray and Foye hit consecutive 3s midway through the half, Villanova took a 20-4 lead.
By that point, the usually sure-handed Orange committed 10 turnovers. They made 15 in the first half - they average 15.6 a game - and the Wildcats scored 25 points off the turnovers.
"We've had too many bad turnovers and we've got to get that corrected," Boeheim said.
Foye hit three 3s in the half and Villanova went 8-for-18 from 3-point range to take a 39-20 lead at the break.
"They gave us a lot of open looks and when you give good players open looks, it's hard not to miss," Ray said.
Former Orange, now Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb sat behind the Syracuse bench, making a rare public appearance as he recovers from a sports hernia that prematurely ended his season.
McNabb, holding his 16-month-old daughter on his lap, smiled as he waved off reporters who approached him at halftime. When asked how he was feeling, McNabb said, "I'm good," and gave a thumbs up before security came over.